Over the years I have seen a number of stand up comics – from the sublime (such as Stewart Lee, Eddie Izzard, Les Dawson, Bruce Morton) to the not so sublime (an Australian woman in 1997 whose routine was based on Pamela Stephenson material from Not the Nine O’clock News in 1980 – but pretended it was all new). I can’t quite identify when the Spangles phenomenon started.
I suspect it was part of the brand of observational comedy that was in vogue (and has been in vogue since) around the time I started seriously going to see comics in the 90s. You’ll know what I mean: the “have you ever noticed”s, whose material is based on the familiarity of recognition as the crowd sits there thinking, “Yes. I do know someone who has a drawer like that. And by god you’re right he IS a man. Why, your perceptive observation means that you have clearly nailed a world-view that merits my spending a lot of time and money listening to you.”
Some involved recollections that seemed so personal that they seemed almost certainly parody. The “have you ever noticed that [insert name of topical figure] looks like my old [insert subject] teacher”. And people would nod. Yes. yes he does. Because clearly we all went to your school and know what your teachers look like. Hahahaha. You truly are the new comic messiah, a veritable Will Hay of today.
Some though simply tried to plug into a shared nostalgia of the sort that gave life to a genre of programmes skewered so brilliantly on Armando Ianucci’s Time Trumpet, the “I love [insert name of year]”s where after being shown a clip of a show a celebrity – originally someone with something to do with the year but ultimately a rent-a-quote, paid for their Proust-like ability to remember things past – would remember it – ordinarily by telling you what had happened in the clip they had watched which we were then shown. This type of remembering things was not unfamiliar. I remember the days when I started University and aside from asking what you people had achieved in their exams, where they came from, or where they were living, conservational longeurs could be cut short with a quick “Remember [insert name of thing you remember such as an old Tv programme or sweet or fizzy drink or shop (you know the thing)]” and off the never quite shared memories would go and an embarrassing silence would be temporarily avoided.
But when certain comics do it, as an audience member, and semi-intelligent member of the human race, you’re sometimes left wondering what the point is. When a comic asks if we remember Space hopppers, or pacers, or spangles, the reaction of a certain part of the audience is to laugh. “Yes, we remember that. Hahahahaha”.
But then sometimes you look at the comic sharing his (it’s usually, in fact almost always, HIS) memories to trigger our recognition laughter button and think, “hang on a minute. I’m older than you. This [insert product that the comic has “remembered”] had vanished from the shelves by the time I was six [sometimes a little older]. How the hell do you remember it? In fact, I think that you don’t really remember it, but are instead attempting to target a certain demographic by offering nostalgic anecdotes about things that you can’t possibly remember – unless, in the case of spangles, it was from their 1994 brief revival where it just wasn’t the same and you were far too old to be pretending to be a small child in a routine today.”
So, if you are one of those comics that “remembers” spangles for cynical marketing reasons two words of advice: first, work harder on your material; and second, why not try to get on Strictly come dancing, and then you can have some real spangles to remember in future years.